Is Phil Hellmuth Really the Greatest?
Phil Hellmuth, the self professed master of “White Magic,” came close to his 14th World Series of Poker Bracelet yesterday when he was beaten heads up by Ted Forrest as he won his sixth bracelet in the seventh event of the 2014 WSOP, the $1,500 Razz Event.
In his last attempt for a bracelet, Hellmuth went into the final table second in chips, behind Greg Pappas and ahead of fellow WSOP bracelet holders in Ted Forrest, John “Brock” Parker, Brandon Cantu, and David Bach.
Over the course of the final table, Hellmuth showed why he has more bracelets than any other player in history and seemed to soundly outplay the table, with only Forrest able to keep pace. The table ended up two handed with Forrest and Hellmuth facing each other over the red felt as the both attempted to add to their collection of gold bracelets.
The heads up battle lasted for over 6 hours, with both players holding the chip lead at one time or another. Forrest was the one to emerge victorious when the deck went in his favour. Hellmuth was very gracious in defeat, tweeting his congratulations to Forrest soon after the end of the matchup.
Congrats to my old friend Ted Forrest on winning #WSOPRazz tourn. If I had to lose to someone, I’m glad it was Teddy….2nd place for me
— phil_hellmuth (@phil_hellmuth) June 2, 2014
Phil Hellmuth really arrived on the Poker Scene in style back in 1989, when he became the youngest World Series of Poker Main Event winner at the tender age of 24. While that record has since been broken, Hellmuth has been consistently adding to his total of titles in the WSOP, with the majority of them being in his favourite game, Texas Hold’em. His next title was in 1992, when he picked up the $5,000 Limit Hold’em title for $168,000, which was a big score in the pre Moneymaker era of the WSOP. 1993 was a fantastic year for Phil. The WSOP resulted in three bracelets, in the $1,500 and $2,500 No Limit Hold’em, and a successful defence of his $5,000 Limit Hold’em title for a total WSOP score of $472,400 for that year’s series. It took another four years for the nice title for the “Poker Brat,” coming as it did in 1997 in the $3,000 Pot Limit Hold’em event, which gave Hellmuth another $204,000 to add to his earning from the WSOP. 2001 brought the next title, this time in the $2,000 No Limit Hold’em Event for $316,550, and was the last title for Hellmuth in the Pre Moneymaker era.
2003 saw another pair of titles, and the start of much larger fields in the WSOP. Hellmuth started the year by winning the $2,500 Limit Hold’em for $171,400, quickly followed by his biggest result since winning the main Event as he picked up $410,860 for the £3,000 No Limit Hold’em event as the poker boom hit the World Series.
2006 saw Phil win a single bracelet by picking up the £1,000 Rebuy No limit Hold’em title for a massive $631,863 payday. The next year saw him out do that result with a $637,254 win in the $1,500 No Limit Hold’em event for his eleventh bracelet. Number twelve had to wait for 2012, but came with a European partner to make up for the wait. In his first non Hold’em win at the WSOP, Hellmuth shipped the $2,500 Seven Card Razz title for $182,793 while in Vegas. In France later that year, Phil won his thirteenth bracelet in the WSOPe Main Event, for a €1,022,376 result. Hellmuth is still the only player to be able to say he has won both the WSOP and the WSOPe Main Events.
in addition to all of these WSOP title, Hellmuth is also the runaway leader on the league table of cashes at the WSOP. With 101 Cashes including the one for his recent near miss in the Razz Event, he is 20 cashes ahead of the next player on the list. Erik Seidel is in second place with 81 cashes, but Phil isn’t only leading the list of total WSOP cashes. Hellmuth is also the leading visitor to WSOP final tables, with 49 final table appearances to his name, ten ahead of second place Men Nguyen. He also has the second spot on the All time WSOP money list with $12,264,594.
Phil hasn’t just been successful in the WSOP, he has a string of titles from event around the world and has earned $18,064,437 in his live tournament career, and is 6th on the all time money list.
Not everything in Phil Hellmuth’s poker life has been perfect though. Phil was the face of the Ultimate Bet (UB) online poker room, and his image has been tarnished by this relationship. UB was caught in a cheating scandal when an account gained access to an option to “super-use.” This gave the player information on his opponents, including the cards they were holding. While it appears Hellmuth was in the dark about this cheating, he has never apologised, or returned any of the money he earned from his time as a sponsored pro for the site.
Phil has also been less than pleasant to deal with at the table. With a well known reputation to “blow up” at the table when he gets tilted, other players have been known to needle the “poker Brat” to try and get him to live up to his nickname. If you put Hellmuth’s name into the YouTube search engine, you’d be able to find more examples than I would ever want to watch of this behaviour.
His attitude in dealing with this scandal, and his attitude at the table, has hurt Phil’s reputation with a lot of the more hardcore poker fans, who without this would respect the player from Wisconsin a lot more.
So, is Phil Hellmuth the greatest ever player of poker tournaments?
Looking at the way he plays cards, I would certainly never suggest that a player looks to Phil as his role model. His game would be described by most players at the highest level as sub optimal, and they’d only be being polite! Phil is well known for getting down to a short stack, and still playing post flop poker, when the mathematically optimal strategy would have players moving all in pre flop. Phil however seems to have a sense that other poker players are missing. He seems to be able to read people in the same way you or I might read a book, so when he does finally stick his small stack of round betting discs into the middle, he is invariably ahead of his opponent. Using these strategies Phil has been able to counter some of the new whiz kids who turn up on the scene from time to time.
However, to anyone wanting to improve their game, I’d advise you to ignore Phil’s strategy book as well as any strategy advice he may give while commentating. While it works for Hellmuth, the rest of us just don’t have the skill set to make it work at our tables.
His results however are hard to argue against. He has been able to make his strategy work for him for over 25 years, and he’s still going strong. I don’t know if Phil Hellmuth is the greatest tournament poker player of all time, but it’s certainly hard to rule him out.